What follows is the third of a series of four articles providing a look at the Pirates Division Rivals going into 2017:
As we get ready for what should hopefully be an exciting and successful season, I’m going to be examining the outlook of other NL Central teams. Almost half the schedule is composed of the Pirates division rivals so we’re going to be seeing a lot of them. Because of this, I think it’s worth getting to know them better and getting an idea of what to expect. Before the season starts I’m going to give a look at each, going in reverse order of their 2016 finish. Up now are the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished last season second in the division.
2016 Record: 86-76
Pirates Record vs. Cardinals in 2016: 9-10
- Matt Holliday (LF) – Signed with New York Yankees
- Brandon Moss (RF) – Signed with Atlanta Braves
- Jaime Garcia (SP) – Traded to Atlanta Braves
- Catcher: Yadier Molina
- First Base: Matt Carpenter
- Second Base: Kolten Wong/Jedd Gyorko
- Third Base: Jhonny Peralta
- Shortstop: Aledmys Diaz
- Left Field: Randal Grichuk
- Center Field: Dexter Fowler
- Right Field: Stephen Piscotty
Games vs. Pirates
- At Pittsburgh: July 14-16, August 17-20, September 22-24 (10 games)
- At St. Louis: April 17-19, June 23-25, September 8-10 (9 games)
Despite Dexter Fowler becoming a Free Agent after winning the World Series with the Cubs last season, the Pirates can’t quite shake him. The 30-year-old Outfielder signed a five-year deal to play for the Cardinals. While it may be painful for Cubs fans to see a key member of their World Series winning team suiting up for a rival, that may not be the case for the Pirates faithful. For me at least, this just means a foe will be wearing a hated red instead of the hated blue.
For the Cardinals, though, they’ll be getting an upgrade in the Outfield. Though Fowler will play Center Field, the Cardinals will basically be swapping him in for former Left Fielder Matt Holliday, who signed with the Yankees over the offseason.
Matt Holliday has been a presence in the Cardinals Outfield since 2010, going to 4 All-Star Games and hitting 156 Home Runs in his 7 plus years with the Redbirds. However, he will be 37 this season and has been barely above replacement level the last two seasons (0.8 and 0.3 bWAR in 2015 and 2016 respectively).
The Cardinals get a player who slashed .276/.393/.447 with a 4.2 bWAR for the Cubs in 2016 in Fowler. Additionally, he’s still in his prime at 31 years old. While he doesn’t have the power Holliday once had, he should still be good for double-digit home runs over a full season.
With Fowler slotting into center field, Randal Grichuk will slide over to left field. Meanwhile, Stephen Piscotty will still be in right field. In the three of them, the Cardinals will have three everyday outfielders that combined for nearly 10 bWAR in 2016. Additionally, with Piscotty and Grichuk only 26 and 25 years old respectively, some improvement can be expected and the trio could easily break 10 WAR in 2017.
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Things aren’t as rosy for the Cardinals in the dirt, though. Right now there appears to be a bit of a controversy at second base. Kolten Wong has been a relatively disappointing player since coming into the Major Leagues in 2013. He owns a career .248/.309/.370 slash line with only 28 career home runs and a 6.4 BB%.
Meanwhile, Jedd Gyorko (acquired from the Padres in the Jon Jay trade last offseason) enjoyed a breakout season hitting 30 Home Runs. This combined with a frustration with Wong’s development have led the Cardinals to consider platooning the two at Second Base.
Wong has not taken kindly to that suggestion as he expected to be the everyday guy at that position. Overall, though, neither player is that attractive of an option as they both hit under .250 last year (.240 for Wong and .243 for Gyorko) with low OBPs (.327 for Wong and .309 for Gyorko) and Gyorko should not be expected to hit 30 Home Runs again due to a high HR/FB rate in 2016 (24.4%). Still, this battle should be something to watch through the first couple months of the season.
Elsewhere in the infield, Matt Carpenter will be settling in as the new everyday First Baseman. The Cardinals longtime infielder played wherever he seemed to be needed, earning All-Star nods at Second and Third Base. The Cardinals are hoping that Carpenter will provide long-sought stability at first base in 2017.
Meanwhile, veteran Jhonny Peralta is hoping to have bounceback year at third base. The soon-to-be 35-year-old missed half of last season with a thumb injury. For the season he ended up producing his worst slash line since 2012 (.260/.307/.408) and produced a negative bWAR (-0.4). A bounce-back from Peralta will be key to their playoff chances.
The only regular member of the 2016 Cardinals rotation that will not be with the club this year is Jaime Garcia. St. Louis sent the 30-year-old southpaw to the Braves for a trio of prospects. The Cardinals won’t really have a new face in the rotation to replace Garcia though. Lance Lynn will be returning to the St. Louis rotation after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of last season. His return is a welcome for the Pirates due to a career 4.74 ERA and 1.51 WHIP against Pittsburgh.
The swapping of Garcia for Lynn also means that the Cardinals will be rolling out an all right-handed rotation. These righties, listed above, will be largely a collection of familiar faces for Pirates fans. All have been making starts for the Cardinals since 2013, except Leake who was still in the NL Central as a member of the Reds’ rotation.
After an April series in St. Louis, the Cardinals and Pirates won’t see a whole lot of each other for a while. As is the case with the Brewers and Reds, the Pirates’ games against the Cardinals are backloaded.
13 of the 19 games between the two teams will occur after the All-Star, Break and 6 of them will be in September. The final series between the teams in Pittsburgh the second to last weekend of the season is one to keep in mind. This could turn out to be a key series if both teams are still in the hunt and even could be a precursor to the NL Wild Card Game.
The Pirates and Cardinals have played some classics over the past few years. However, the Redbirds have generally gotten the better of the Pirates. They, of course, beat out the Pirates for the division from 2013-2015, with the two teams finishing 1-2 each of those years.
Going back even further they’ve finished ahead of the Pirates every year this century, with 1999 being the last year the Bucs finished ahead of them in the standings. This year could be the year the Pirates finally finish ahead of them, though.
The Cardinals are in general not as fearsome as they were earlier in the decade and cornerstone players are aging. That being said the Pirates have issues of their own. While they could finish ahead of St. Louis this year, it’s no guarantee and maybe shouldn’t even be expected.